Tag Archives: co-op

Substitute Teacher

The Husband taught our co-op yesterday.  It was about his area of expertise: political advertising.  It allowed him to pull out his coffee table books about political posters and make his own playlist of political televisions ads from history for the kids to view.

Despite all that, because he’s “not a teacher” he got a little nervous briefly before class.  Of course, in the end, it went perfectly fine, even great.  You can see him below taking votes from the co-op’s mock election based on their homemade ads.  But his feelings reminded me of two things.

First, it reminded me of how many people feel before embarking on homeschooling, that they simply “can’t” do it.  In actuality, if you’re determined and willing to learn, then I firmly believe that nearly anyone can.  I come from a background of teaching and education, and I’ll admit that gave me the confidence and some background conceptual thinking to get me starting in homeschooling, but most of the things I do with my kids aren’t things I learned from teaching in school or from my time getting a master’s degree.  They’re things I’ve learned from curricula or from other homeschoolers or have simply made up as I went along.

Second, I was reminded of how I often undervalue my own skills.  I am not always a perfect teacher, but I have found a calling to teach and I find a great deal of satisfaction in doing so.  As our Destination Imagination teams started up again and science returned to the Rowhouse, I taught – not just my kids, but a few others as well – for two days straight last week and found myself feeling much more fulfilled.  I am often very dismissive about teaching.  “Anyone can do it.”  “It’s just teaching.”  But having a sense of how to educate and organize a lesson is an actual skill, whether you get it from years in a classroom or a homeschool and it’s one that, as a homeschooler, we should value in ourselves.



One of our co-ops has done a little homemade yearbook for awhile now and I vowed to introduce the practice to our other one.  While the kids were around the fuzzball table at one house, one of the other parents nudged me and was like, they’re all together around that table, I think it needs a yearbook photo.

I don’t think I quite captured it (said as if my iPhone is some awesome action-capturing camera and I’m some serious photographer!).  But I like the concentrating look on BalletBoy’s face there, wearing his hilarious winter hat with the heart on it indoors.  Fuzzball!

Mmm… Ham.

BalletBoy got to ditch his brother to go on the hike to Calvert Cliffs this week with co-op.  He was quite pleased.  Why is he eating ham in this picture?  Because he wouldn’t be still and eat lunch earlier like a normal child.  Wait, what am I saying?  Normal children don’t sit still to eat lunch…  do they?

First Week Moments

I saved up all the various things I bought for the kids so they could all come out at the same time in one box-curricula-esque extravaganza.  Of course, the first thing BalletBoy and Mushroom did was accidentally dump out their entire rock set, so we spent the first morning reorganizing it.

Most of our week was spent out and about with our co-op.  We did a trip with them every single day.  Here we are on the first day, in our traditional first day in the tree pose.  We have new members, which is exciting but also an adjustment for everyone.

Playing around on the boardwalk during our hike.

Appreciating the lotuses at the aquatic gardens.

The best part of the county fair was riding the school bus to get there!

Or possibly swimming in soybeans.

Here’s Great Falls, scampering over the rocks along the towpath.

And now…  whew, I’m tired.  But it was so good to be out and about all week, mostly outside, where the weather was hot, but not oppressive, and the rain held off for us.

Imagination in Search of Knowledge

Sometimes, as we get focused on learning all the skills I’m trying to teach: sounding out new words, adding bigger numbers, telling time, and so forth, I forget that one of the best ways to learn at this age is through imagination.  Luckily I’ve got the kids to remind me.

One of the first times I taught one of our co-ops, the kids had chosen to study dinosaurs so I threw together a “time machine” in the basement and we went on an imaginary journey through time, exploring the dinosaurs and the history of life on earth, using a picture book as our guide.  The kids loved it so much, that I did it a second time, when we were studying jungles.  For that adventure, the time machine took us through an entire year in the desert with the excellent book Jungle Days, Jungle Nights by Martin Jordan.

Now, I’ve been typecast.  The kids insisted that I do another trip in the time machine.  Since we were studying space, I figured the topic had to be the Big Bang and the life and death of the earth.

This is our time machine. Please note that it's blue like the TARDIS. It usually has more pillows around it to cushion the blow when we land.

In practical terms, all we do is climb into the makeshift time machine, press the imaginary buttons, rattle it around and then tumble out.  Sometimes we put on special imaginary protective gear first.  Then we walk around pretending to see things.  Typically, certain kids like to get stuck – on the other side of a lava floe or a flood or trapped as a dinosaur hunts them.  Then the rest of us have to rescue them so we can get back in the time machine and on to the next stop.

This time, I added a twist.  I made each kid a “Universal Passport” where they had to apply for visas by answering questions about their destinations after I read them the “travel guide.”  Our Big Bang guide book was Big Bang! A Tongue Tickling Tale of a Speck that Became Spectacular by Carolyn Decristofano.  This was a strange book, with an alphabetic poem that told the story, but with cool images and some good analogies that helped the kids understand things.  As is often the case, I found just the right book after the fact, so if you want a simple picture book on the Big Bang, I think the book Older than the Stars by Karen Fox is a better option. Our second guide was the book The Beginning of the Earth by Franklyn Branley.  As the book is so old, I had to make some corrections (and have to admit I don’t know if I got them all).  I love that our library keeps their old books, but sometimes you want something slightly more up to date than 1972 for a topic that has changed a good bit since then.  Next, I got to pretend to be the “Passport Officer.”  I put on a special hat and sat behind the “Passport Control” desk.  Also, I did a silly voice.  You have to do a silly voice.

The travel visas, which you can see the picture above, are made from sticker paper and put along a little mini-timeline inside the passport which I drew ahead of time for the kids.  I have gotten so much out of using printable sticker paper, by the way.  I’ve used it to print timeline stickers, tiny monuments of the world for our map, and for many projects like this.  I highly recommend it.

Other than the moment when a couple of the kids nearly got stuck in a Black Hole near the end of the universe, it was a pretty good trip.

A Few Good Friends

For most outsiders to the homeschool world, the first question they have about homeschooling deals with what many homeschoolers call “the S word.”  Socialization, that is.  It’s not ever been something that I’ve worried about seriously.  However, now that we’ve been at this for a little while, I’ve started to get a little frustrated by some of the canned responses I see when people talk about that dreaded S word with nervous newcomers and curious outsiders.  The most common response is that there are many opportunities for kids to be with other kids: 4H, scouting, sports, classes, co-ops, churches, recreation centers, and just on the playground or out and about.

That’s true, to a point.  Especially if you live in an urban or suburban area, there’s plenty for kids to sign up for.  I keep paring back our schedule, but at various points in the last year, we’ve had at least a dozen different classes or sports that brought my kids into contact with other kids.  But is that really enough?  Is just being around other kids, even on a regular basis enough?

For me, the answer is no.  I think it’s the quality of the interactions that are the most important.  Neither school nor an active slate of activities necessarily provides a level of quality peer interaction.  At least at school you have a sustained group, which you might not even get in various activities.  By quality I mean I mean developing a friendship and an investment in another person as someone that you care about in your life.  Getting that isn’t necessarily as simple as just signing your kid up for stuff.  Like everything when you’re homeschooling, it usually takes forethought and effort.

When we first began our kindergarten co-op last year, the other three families and I agreed that the highest goal we had was to create a sense of community among the kids and to develop their friendships and ability to be together as a group.  We don’t sit around thinking about that and talking about how to do it.  The nuts and bolts of what we’re learning about and what time we’re meeting and who paid for the tickets to a certain show and so forth get a lot more conversation.  However, we all have an unspoken agreement to think about the group in these terms.  What activities are we doing that allow them to work together?  What are we doing that allows them to share?  Are they getting enough time together to just be kids with each other?  These are the sort of lenses through which we judge our time together.  For us, it has been really organic because we all come from the same sort of assumptions that this sort of socialization – the kind that’s about community and friendships – is the most important thing.

The simple truth is that it takes thinking about free time, especially free play, as time well spent and not time wasted.  Schools have forgotten this as they eliminate recess left and right, that they’re harming kids’ ability to learn to interact and work things out.  Doing things together – sharing a meal, going for a hike, taking a trip, or spending a long lazy day at the park – is time that kids need to build real friendships.  Obviously, some kids, both schooled and homeschooled, are lucky enough to have a neighborhood of friends and opportunities to hang out with them by just running down the street.  But I’ve found that most homeschoolers don’t and even many schooled kids don’t have that these days.  Our friends live all over the place so it takes me believing that it’s worth it to haul the kids across town “just” to play.

Seeing Mushroom and BalletBoy build those friendships and take such joy in their friends warms my heart.  They get giddy about seeing them, even though they spend time with their friends often.  They hug their friends.  They really know them and know their likes and dislikes.  So while it has taken some thinking and effort on our part, I think the dreaded S word is actually a benefit to homeschooling, especially because I trust they’ll have many of their friends for years to come.

Impromptu Co-op Conga Line!

Six Great Things About My Co-op

There are a lot of different kinds of co-ops in homeschooling.  I think most people immediately think of the kind that has an official space, a somewhat large price tag, and a wide array of class offerings for kids of various ages.  That’s not the kind we do.

We’re in a couple different small cooperative groups, but the one that’s probably the most important to us is our co-op that began last fall for kindergarten.  We have four families and eight kids…  oops, eight kids and one tiny new baby makes nine!  We meet once a week for a morning that usually stretches well into the afternoon as the kids run around and the mothers sit and talk.  We are so blessed to have this group of families we get along so well with.  I can’t imagine how we got so lucky.

Here are some of the amazing things that make that co-op tick:

1. We pick topics that can go in a million different directions.
We’ve had topics like water, food and tools, which have led us to art projects, show and tells, cooking, hiking, planting, storytelling, measuring and pretty much everything else you can imagine.  None of us are concerned with teaching some checklist of information so we let opportunity and inspiration guide us to find interesting experiences to have together.

2. We’re a community.
We’re not just a class that meets once a week.  Honestly, the things we study are secondary to the kind of socialization we want to encourage.  We’re friends.  We eat together.  We share our books, our food, our homes and our lives.  We don’t just want to share teaching the kids, we want to be a group of friends.

3. We think about the big picture.
It’s not that we’re against details.  Details are good.  We’ve worked out systems.  For example, for each topic we do, each mom teaches one morning about it at her house and provides a snack.  But we spend a lot more time talking about the things we think matter.  We planned to spend a week together up front each year just being together.  We also agreed to pick a place to explore several times a year so we could see it in different seasons.  We think about ways to encourage teamwork or heal friendships when the kids hit a rough patch.

4. We trust each other.
We trust each other with our kids.  We trust each other to iron out the details and make decisions.  We can make decisions together because of that trust.

5. We seize the moment.
It was hot out this week so instead of starting our first topic like we had originally planned, we went to the water park.  Last year, when there were performances or other opportunities, we changed our plans to take advantage of them.  If there are teachable moments, we all take advantage of them.

6. We put as much time into the grown-ups as we put into the kids.
Let’s face it, this co-op is as much for the grown-ups as it is for the kids.  If the moms didn’t get along, things wouldn’t work, or wouldn’t work as well.  We make sure to have Mom’s Nights Out so we can hang out without the kids.  This year, we’re reading books on the topics we chose for the kids.  The first topic is “heroes” and the grown-ups are reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.

Reason #361 We Love DC

Along with our co-op, we decided to spend the morning at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery last week.  This museum is one of our favorites.  We thought we would go do one of the scavenger hunts in the Luce Center upstairs.  You get a button when you do one.  We have a whole bulletin board of buttons.

We did do the scavenger hunt, but first, we spent more than an hour sidetracked by the Norman Rockwell exhibit.  An Art Cart was waiting for the kids in the museum’s amazing courtyard.  There, two museum educators told the kids about Rockwell and explained his artistic process.  Apparently Rockwell staged all his paintings as photographs first.  Then he painted from the photos.  The museum educators gave the kids a notebook of Rockwell’s works from the exhibit and told them to pick some that they could recreate and we could take photos of.  What a brilliant idea!  Here’s Mushroom posing as a teacher.  BalletBoy and one of his pals are the students:

And here’s the actual Rockwell painting:

I’m not a huge Rockwell fan.  However, the idea behind the exhibit was that his works tell a story.  As we moved through the exhibit, we talked about the emotions and the actions.  What comes next?  What happened before?  We imagined what expression faces hidden from view held and imitated those we could see.  In short, it was a great exhibit for kids.  Also, you should have seen BalletBoy’s face when I told him the man who created Star Wars was the owner of many of the paintings on display.

Surprises like that are one of the many reasons we love life in DC.